Where to Stay in Kyoto First Time: 7 Best Areas

The best areas to stay in Kyoto for first-timers are the neighborhoods of Downtown Kyoto, Gion and Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station, Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Kibune. These districts are very popular and safe for tourists that offers a wide variety of attractions and amenities.

In this guide, we will be looking at where to stay in Kyoto for the first time, for nightlife, shopping, family, and best ryokan.

Downtown Kyoto is the best place to stay in Kyoto for the first time due to its prime location and the widest choice in accommodations. If you stay here, you will be in the heart of action, within walking distance to the famous tourists attractions in Gion, Higashiyama, and well-connected transportation. It also offers the best nightlife and best tourist amenities including restaurants, bars, and shops.

You can find all types of accommodation in Kyoto from budget guesthouses, traditional Japanese style inns (ryokan), B&Bs, vacation rentals, traditional townhouses (machiya) to luxury international hotels. 

The hotels in Kyoto can get fully sold out far in advance for a busy season such as the cherry blossom season from late March to mid-April and the autumn foliage season in November. Be sure to Book well in advance at least 4 to 5 months ahead during peak seasons.

If hotels in Kyoto are fully booked, you can stay in Osaka, which is only less than one hour by train from Kyoto. Kyoto and Osaka are the two most popular places to stay in southern part of Japan. Kyoto offer more of an authentic traditional Japanese experience. Osaka has better shopping and food.

💖 Best Area for first-timers:Downtown Kyoto
💎 Best luxury hotel:Hotel Granvia Kyoto
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo
💰 Best budget hotel:Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo

🎬 To get an overall idea of where to stay in Kyoto for the first time, check out this video:

7 Best Areas to Stay in Kyoto for tourists

1. Downtown, where to stay in Kyoto for first-time tourists

Downtown Kyoto, best area for first-timers

Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay in Kyoto for first time tourists due to its central location and a wide range of accommodations that suit all budget travelers. If you book a hotel here, you will be located in the middle of everything, within walking distance to top tourist attractions, as well as some of the Kyoto’s best restaurants, bars, and shops.

Downtown Kyoto, also known as Kawaramachi, is a small area that is bounded by Oike-dori in the north, Kamogawa River in the east, Shijo-dori in the south, and Karasuma-dori in the west.

Downtown encompases the historic Ponto-Cho Geisha neighborhood and the shopping area of Shijo. This area is easy to explore on foot, and it has many covered arcades that make it the best places to explore on a rainy day.

Downtown Kyoto provides excellent public transport with two main subway lines and two train lines. It offers easy access to the rest of the city. Karasuma Oike Subway Station has direct line to Kyoto Station.

Downtown is home to Nishiki Market (Kyoto’s Kitchen), the traditional food market. Nishiki Market is a great place for foodies to sample the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for, like dried seafood, sushi, Japanese sweets, and pickles.

For a perfect food trip on a rainy day, to get a real insight into a variety of Japanese cuisine, you can also visit the Daimaru basement food floor and Takashimaya basement food floor

Running parallel with Nishiki Market is the Shijo Shopping Strip. Shijo Avenue is one of the most modern shopping districts in Kyoto that runs through the heart of the city from East to West. You can also find everything here from traditional Japanese crafts, Kyoto-style clothing (Kimono), to high-end brands,  cafes, fast food and Japanese restaurants.

The busiest part of the street is Shijō Kawaramachi Intersection, the area between Karasuma-dori and Higashioji-dori. There are high density of shops around Kawaramachi-dori and Karasuma-dori where you find  boutique shopping buildings Fujii Daimaru and Marui, and shopping malls like Daimaru Department Store and Takashimaya Department Store.

If you want more shopping, you can head to the two popular covered shopping arcades in Kyoto, Teramachi Kyogoku Shopping Arcade and Shinkyogoku Shopping streets.

If you want to see Geiko or Maiko on their way to work, head to the Pontocho Alley, a traditional nightlife area in Kyoto. The  narrow atmospheric alley Pontocho Alley is located between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori, on the west bank of Kamo-gawa River.  

If you’re a fan of Japanese comics, you must visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It’s the best manga museum in the entire Japan with more than 300 000 Manga comic books.

The hotels in Downtown can be a little expensive due to its prime location but it’s worth it to be in the middle of the city. The best places to stay in Downtown Kyoto are the areas near the train station like Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Line), Gion Shijo Station (Keihan Line), and Sanjo Station (Keihan Line). 

You can easily find all types of accommodations downtown from cheap guesthouses, traditional Japanese inns ryokans, to vacation rentals, and luxury hotels. Some of the best hotels in Downtown Kyoto are the Nishiyama Ryokan and Royal Park Hotel Sanjo.

Best places to stay in Kyoto downtown:


See more: 30 Best things to do in Kyoto, Japan

2. Gion and Southern Higashiyama, for sightseeing and Japanese culture

Gion, good for sightseeing

Gion is a  traditional entertainment and famous Geisha district (geiko district) right in the middle of the historical district Southern Higashiyama. Southern Higashiyama is one of the best areas to stay in Kyoto for sightseeing due to its abundance of attractions to see.

Southern Higashiyama is a part of Higashiyama, which means eastern mountain. It’s located between the Higashiyama mountain range and the Kamo River, between the Sanjo-dori street in the north and the Shichijo-dori street in the south. 

Gion is the area around Shijo Street, between Kamo-gawa River in the west and Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the east. The center of the district is the intersection of Hanamikoji Street and Shijo Street. Gion-Shijo train station is the closest station of Gion neighborhood.

Gion is packed with old wooden shops, restaurants, bars, and traditional teahouses. It is  especially atmospheric in the early evening when Japanese lanterns are lit up and apprentice geisha (maiko) prepare to start their work.

You also have plenty of things to do in Gion and Southern Higashiyama during day time with historical sites, shrines, temples, parks, and Zen gardens.

You can start to explore the area with one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto by the UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s more beautiful in March and April with cherry blossoms and November autumn leaves.

Kiyomizudera is a huge temple, some highlights you can visit include the impressive two-story main entrance gate Nio-mon, west gate of Kiyomizu-dera Temple Sai-mon, Zuigodo Hall, the main hall Hondo with its Kiyomizu Stage, Jishu Shrine, Otowa Waterfall, Okuno-in hall, and the Koyasu Pagoda At Taisanji Temple.

Located near the Kiyomizudera Temple are the two pedestrian-streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. The historical stone paved streets are filled with traditional tea houses, shops, restaurants, ryokan inns. 

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are also surrounded by numerous famous landmarks such as Ishibe-kōji, Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, and Kodaiji Zen Temple.

Yasaka Shrine is also known as Gion Shrine, home to Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) celebrations in July. It’s a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and picnic in spring.

At the end of Hanamikoji Street, you can find Kennen-ji temple, the oldest Zen Buddhist  temple in Kyoto belonging to the Zen sect. Here you will find a tea house, monuments, gardens, and different halls.

Ishibei-koji Lane is the most atmospheric pedestrian-only walkway in Kyoto where you find small traditional wooden houses and shops. 

Ishibei-koji Lane intersects with Nene-no-Michi Lane. Nene-no-Michi Lane (Path of Nene) was found by Nene – widow of the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and named after her. This flagstone walkway is particularly scenic and crowded in spring when the cherry trees are in blossom.

In the heart of Goin is the Shirakawa area. The Shirakawa area is on the quiet side of Gion. It lies along the Shirakawa canal and is surrounded by willow trees, sakura cherry trees, high-class restaurants, inns, teahouses, and Tatsumi Daimyōjin that offer attractive riverside dining and Kyoto cuisine.  

Hanami-Koji area is where you find the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater (Gion Corner) to watch cultural shows about Japanese arts like tea ceremony, dances performed by real maiko, ikebana flower arranging, and bunraku puppet theater.

If you love history, Kyoto National Museum is a must-see. It is a major art museum in Japan and one of the four national museums of the country.

Stay in Gion if you want to have the best chance to spot a geisha, you want plenty of choices in traditional Japanese accommodation in ryokans and machiyas.

Best places to stay in Gion and Southern Higashiyama:


3. Kyoto Station and Shimogyo Area, for day trip to Osaka

Kyoto Station, convenient for day trip

Kyoto Station is the main transport hub of the city, if you want convenient public transport to travel to other parts of Japan and don’t mind commuting to see the sights, Kyoto station is the best area to stay in Kyoto for you.

Kyoto Station is the stop of the Haruka airport express train and shinkansen bullet train. This is a good base if you plan to do day trips to Osaka, Himeji Castle, Fushimi Inari shrine, and Nara.

Kyoto Station is not a sightseeing destination, the main activity here is shopping, and visiting some temples and museums nearby.

The futuristic Kyoto Station Building is filled with shops and restaurants. There are several big shopping stores at Porta Underground Shopping Mall, The Cube Shopping Mall, and Isetan Department Store.

There are temples located close to the station like Nishi Honganji Temple, a World Heritage Site, as well as Higashi Honganji Temple, and To-ji Temple.

If you like museums there are one of the best railway museums Kyoto Railway Museum, and a small Kyocera Museum of Art. Costume Museum on the fifth floor of the Izutsu Samegai Buildin is also well worth a visit if you are interested in the history and traditional fashions of Japanese.

Located just across the Kyoto station is the Kyoto Tower. Kyoto Tower is 131 meters tall, the tallest structure in Kyoto. The viewing platform offers stunning view of Kyoto.

Apart from the traditional shrines and temples, families, couples, and tourists can have a fun day at the Kyoto Aquarium, located in Umekoji Park. It has several zones with various themes.

Best places to stay in Kyoto Station:


4. Central Kyoto, where to stay in Kyoto on budget

Nijo Castle Kyoto

Central Kyoto is home to the most popular tourist attractions of Kyoto, the Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) and Nijo Castle. It also offers easy access to the Kyoto Station with the Karasuma subway line.

Nijo Castle (Nijojo) is one of the most impressive sights in Kyoto. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

When visiting the castle, you will first see the Chinese-style gate Karamon and enjoy the attractive wood carvings, covered in beautiful detailing. It’s a popular photo spot with tourists. Nijo Castle has three areas, Honmaru palace, Ninomaru palace and some surrounding gardens.

Ninomaru Palace was the residence and office of the shogun when he visited Kyoto. It has 5 buildings, connected with each other by corridors. The palace rooms are tatami mat covered and feature finely decorated ceilings and attractively painted sliding doors.

Located outside the Ninomaru Palace is the Ninomaru Garden. It is a traditional Japanese garden with a large pond, and was designed by Kobori Enshū, famous landscape architect and tea master.

The Honmaru Palace was designed similar to the Ninomaru Palace, but it was destroyed after the fire in 1788. After the fall of the shogunate, the current building was transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Inside the Nijo Castle, you will see the Seiryū-en garden. It’s a half Western, half Japanese, style garden built in 1965 for tea ceremonies.

Nijo Castle is surrounded by trees and flowers such as Camellia (Tsubaki), Japanese Plum (Ume), Spike Winter Hazel (Tosamizuki), Cherry Blossoms (Sakura), maple, ginkgo. Nijo Castle is a popular place when it’s the spring cherry blossom season.

Apart from Nijo Castle, another impresive attraction in Central Kyoto is the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Gosho ), the official residence of the Emperor in Kyoto. It is situated in the large Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyoto Gyoen) where you can find the Sento Imperial Palace, Kaninnomiya Mansion, and Konoe Pond. The most beautiful time is when cherry blossoms bloom in late March, early April.

Other attractions in Central Kyoto include the Daitoku-ji, Kyoto Botanical Gardens, Funaoka Onsen, Kamo-gawa Riverside, and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine Handicraft Market.

Best places to stay in Central Kyoto:


5. Northern Higashiyama, where to stay in Kyoto for museums

 Ginkaku-ji Temple Kyoto

Northern Higashiyama is a quiet area with breathtaking shrines, old temples, Japanese Zen gardens, and lots of greenery. It has many sights and is less crowded than its neighbor Southern Higashiyama.

The Northern Higashiyama is limited by the Kamo-gawa River in the west, Sanjo-dori in the south, Shugakuin in the north. You will find Okazaki-koen in the central area and temples along the base of the Northern Mountains.

Okazaki-koen is the museum district of Kyoto. The Museum of Modern Art,  the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, and Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts are the most popular museums. 

Okazaki museum district is also home to a shinto shrine, Heian-jingu Shrine, holds the Jidai Festival each year in October. It is at its most beautiful in spring, the cherry blossom season. 

In this area, you can also find a large concert hal, Kyoto Hall, and Kyoto City Zoo. Located in the Okazaki Park area, Kyoto Zoo is a good place for families with children to see the animals.

Northern Higashiyama is also home to the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi), a 1.5km pedestrian stone path along a Lake Biwa Canal, at the foot of Higashiyama mountains. Philosopher’s Path is lined with hundreds of cherry trees, so it is a popular hanami spot in spring time.

The path is a 30 minutes walk starting around Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and finishing in the district of Nanzenji at the sprawling Nanzen-ji, Zen temple complex.

There are also many temples and shrines that surround Philosopher’s Walk, including Otoyo Shrine, Honenin, and Eikando. Honen-in Temple is the most famous temple in Kyoto.

There are not many hotels in Northern Higashiyama, but you can easily find Japanese traditional style accommodations, Ryokan.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Northern Higashiyama:


6. Arashiyama, where to stay in Kyoto for Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Located in the far west of Kyoto on the foot of the Arashiyama Mountains, the beautiful suburb is not a popular area to stay in Kyoto for first time tourists. But if you want to stay close to nature, it’s good to stay a night or two.

Arashiyama is where you can see Bamboo Groves,  the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, some wonderful temples, autumn fall foliage, and phenomenal cherry blossoms.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most incredible sights of Japan. The Bamboo Alley is one of the most photographed attractions in Kyoto along with the geisha(maiko) in Gion, the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji reflected in the water, and the tunnels of red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Located just outside the bamboo forest is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tenryu-Ji temple. This sprawling Zen temple is one of the five major temples of Kyoto with a beautiful garden and fantastic mountain views.

The Jojako-ji Temple is a small temple built in the 16th century, famous for its autumn leaves. It has a small pagoda and is surrounded by greenery. 

The iconic 155-meter Togetsukyo Bridge across the Katsura River. Togetsukyo bridge with the main street of Arashiyama area is always busy with tourists from morning to evening.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride is a 16km long, two hours sightseeing by boat to explore the fabulous scenery of the Tanba-Kameoka, Arashiyama area. You can combine it with the Sagano Romantic Train Trip on the way back. 

Monkey Park Iwatayama, Okochi Sanso Villa, Okochi Sanso Garden, Nisonin Temple, Kameyama-koen Park, Tenzan-no-yu Onsen are some of the attractions that you can visit while in Arashiyama.

If you plan to stay in Arashiyama, you can try to stay in one of the very best ryokan Hoshinoya Kyoto and Arashiyama Benke.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Arashiyama:


7. Kibune and Kurama, where to stay in Kyoto for nature lovers

Kibune Shrine winter

The  tranquil rural villages of Kibune and Kurama are located in the north of Kyoto and are famous for hiking and onsen. It’s 30 minutes by train on the Eizan Line. If you’re looking for a romantic holiday, you can stay in this charming neighborhood for a night or two.

Kurama Onsen is the hot spring where you can sit in the outside tub which is surrounded by the forests. It’s a great place to relax after Kurama-dera Mountain Temple.

You can hike up or take a cable car to the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple on the shoulder of Mt. Kurama- the birthplace of reiki. It offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. There’s a sandō path connecting it to the picturesque village of Kibune and Kifune Shrine.  

Yuki-jinja Shrine is a historic Shinto shrine on the grounds of Kurama-Dera temple. It is a famous Kurama Fire Festival on October 22 each year, one of the unique festivals of Kyoto.

Kifune-jinja Shrine (Kibune-jinja) is famous in the quaint Village of Kibune. The Main Hall with stone staircase lined with red wooden lanterns is a renowned sight often photographed by tourists in all seasons. If you are thirsty, you can drink sacred water (goshinsui) that flows from the mountain. 

If you are on your honeymoon, you must check out the stylish traditional inns, Ryokan Ugenta.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Kibune and Kurama:


Where should I stay in Kyoto for the first time?

Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay in Kyoto for first-timers due to its super central location. If you stay here, you will be in the middle of the action.

What are the best areas to stay in Kyoto?

Downtown Kyoto, Gion and Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station, Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Kibune are some of the best areas to stay in Kyoto because they are the most popular locations for tourists.

How many days should you stay in Kyoto?

To fully appreciate Kyoto’s rich culture, a stay of at least 3-4 days is recommended. However, for a more comprehensive exploration, a week or longer is ideal.

Is 3 days enough in Kyoto?

Three days is a good amount of time to explore the main attractions in Kyoto, but you may need more time if you want to fully immerse yourself in the culture and experience all the city has to offer.

Is it better to stay in Kyoto or Osaka?

It ultimately depends on personal preference and the purpose of the trip. Kyoto is known for its traditional culture and temples, while Osaka is a vibrant city with delicious food and bustling vibe.

See more:

Overall, Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay in Kyoto for first-timers because it is the most convenient location to see top attractions. There are also a wide range of accommodations options that suits all budget. Downtown is also home to Kyoto’s best nightlife, dining, and shopping.

By now you should know which neighborhood is best for you to stay in Kyoto. And you have a better idea of where to stay in Kyoto, it’s time to get booking your dream vacation and head off on your once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Leave a Comment